Intro to the 09 Season, SilverStar, North Cascades, Washington

It’s July of 2009, and as I strap into my splitboard and look back at my 30-mile traverse through some of the most gnarly terrain I’ve ever experienced, I think about how far I’ve come. Below me, lies a wild, 55-degree chute that I hope will constitute yet another first descent I’ve completed this season. I grip my ice axe, and I wonder which reality is worse– that one false turn will send me tumbling 1500’ to my death, or the fact that this possibility no longer intimidates me as it used to. The 2009 Touring Season, which I’m just now wrapping up, has been a wild one, filled with close calls and epic lines, but to understand how I ended up poised at the mouth of the chute described above, you’ve got to take a look at my season from the beginning. Of course, going back to my original days of gaperdom (we’ve all got ‘em, after all) would really give you the full perspective, but let’s start out with one of my first seasonal pursuits o’ pow-pow… back to January of this year.

The 2008 calendar year ended with a solid week of storms, and snow totals well above 100 inches in the PacNW. But January brought rain, and lots of it. Rivers swelled, snowpack melted, and floods and then sunshine ensued. While the whole Cascade Range felt the toll of this less than pleasant weather, I was determined to find powder somewhere, and sought my salvation at high elevations deep in the Northeastern Cascades. After a long drive, a buddy and I found ourselves sleeping beneath the bright stars that illuminated our objectives—the picturesque Silver Star Mountain, and its glacier bearing the same moniker.

A semi full moon lights the way as we head towards our objective

A semi-full moon lighting our way as we approach our objective
To the backdrop of a semi-full moon and glorious alpenglow, we began our mid-winter skin up. Skinning in winter has its own batch of weather-related challenges not associated with spring or summer travel– 15 hours of darkness per day are conducive to long periods of sleep, but not to overly aggressive skin lines. Nonetheless, ever hopeful, we began to trudge toward our intended goal. Sadly, any hopes for powder faded as we skinned through pillow-lines that had been frozen from the more expected and characteristic fluffy consistency, to a rock-hard jungle of ice. 3,000’ below our objective, we set up base camp, where I was psyched to test out my new Golite tent and zero-degree bag. Cozy and warm in said pristine gear, Dan and I got some much-needed rest.

In the morning, the characteristic darkness of the Northwest winter was augmented by Silver Star’s strategic obscuring of the sunrise, but we had a beautiful view for our morning coffee and boot defrosting, as the sky was ablaze with a brilliant reddish tint. I was struck at this moment by the independence you feel when you’re the only ones in a massive place and the only sounds are your own echoes off of canyon walls or the occasional thumping of a chopper’s blade overhead, shuttling heli-skiers deep into the North Cascades.

Dan Taking a moments Rest in the High Alpine of Silver Star
Dan looking towards our new objective in the High Alpine
Our morning was riddled with cliffs and glacier-carved terrain, until finally we reached variable powder—one foot deep in some places, and solid ice in others. We had hoped for turns on Silver Star Glacier but upon arriving found that our would-be powder was in fact nothing more than wind-scoured blue ice. Opting to retrace our steps, we returned instead to a few chutes that looked to be in much better condition. Luckily, our ascent to the northeast began revealing endless possibilities with much skiable terrain. Our chosen chute varied in width from five to twenty feet, and we became excited as our feet punched deep into the snowpack while climbing it. Pumped full of adrenaline, we straight-lined the chute’s firm powder then dropped down for some wider, deeper turns on the apron and through the alpine into open glades. Our ascent took six hours, our descent less than half of one—a good temporal trade.

Our new objective on the left hand side


Heading up the gut of our new objective the Aptly named Middle Finger Chute


Strapped in and ready to tackle our new objective


1500 feet so far and its still delivering on wind effected Pow turns


Once back at basecamp, we packed up our beloved tent and belongings and began the remaining 3000’ vert to the car. While a creek bed is the most direct path down, it isn’t always the smartest route. As we lingered on the Eastern side of the creek, the terrain steepened and the drainage quickly became a canyon. It turned out that we needed to boot pack up the Canyon walls and traverse into the dense forest, where we bushwhacked to the car, using the roaring of the nearby creek as a means of auditory orienteering. Exhausted but happy, we celebrated the accomplishment of our now-revised goal—tackling something large and remote, deep in the North Cascades. Sliver Star itself would have to be another trip.

Kyle Miller



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